Volleyball and cross country teams across the Orange County School District are holding their first official practices this week, after an offseason that lasted almost an entire year.
Following months of uncertainty about whether there would be a season at all, the OCSD released a schedule and a series of guidelines that laid out when teams were allowed to play, and what safety precautions players and coaches would have to take in order to have in-person events. The first sports to return will be cross country and volleyball, both of which start practice this week.
Toward the end of October, athletes and coaches were allowed inside of their respective schools for the first time since March to have official preseason workouts. Even though players and coaches are back to doing what they love, Orange High School volleyball coach Kelly Young said it has been difficult to adjust to this “new normal."
For every workout, practice and game, Young has to work with the school’s athletic trainer to make sure they are following the national, state and district guidelines. These guidelines include making sure players bring their own water, come dressed ready to play, place their bags six feet apart, fill out a questionnaire and have a temperature check before entering the gym. Although there are many precautions to go through, the biggest challenge Young has seen her players deal with is having to wear a mask throughout the entirety of every practice.
“If they had their choice, they would choose not to wear them during play,” Young said.
Chloe Riley, a senior volleyball player at Orange High School, said wearing a mask is difficult when she is on the court.
“I do have asthma, so it is difficult to run in a mask,” Riley said.
Having to wear masks during practice has made teams take time out to address these difficulties. Riley said the team has to incorporate “mask breaks” into its practices, so her and other players with asthma and other conditions can catch their breath.
“During practice, some of the girls on the team who also have asthma go outside to take our masks off and take a break for a second," Riley said. "We have a designated spot in the gym for that, too.”
Young has noticed that wearing a mask hinders the quality of practice as well.
“Even when you are watching them practice, you can just tell it takes it out of them” Young said. “You can just tell they are struggling when we are trying to do drills, and I get frustrated.”
In order to combat the difficulties of wearing a mask during practice, OCSD Executive Director of Schools Jason Johnson said they are trying to “roll out slowly” to ensure player safety. The plan to ease players back starts with two practices a week with a 50 percent reduction in intensity, and increases every week until the practices are back at full speed.
“By reducing the level of intensity, we just want to ensure that nobody gets hurt," Johnson said. "We want to bring them back slowly."
Even though many aspects of the season have been altered due to COVID-19, Young is just happy to see her players back on the court.
“Just seeing them light up and be so excited to be in the gym again with their friends and somewhat be normal has made it all worth it,” Young said. “They are willing to do anything it takes to have a season.”
With her senior year already hit with so many changes, Riley said she is just relieved to be back on the court with her friends.
“We are just happy to be there and happy to be together," she said. "We now know we can’t take this chance for granted.”
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